Due to a major sewer project, McAlpine Creek Greenway will close in 2013 and when it opens two years later, the dirt trails will be replaced with asphalt.
And some members of the running community are not happy.
The renovations stem from a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department plan to install a 54-inch relief sewer line to accommodate the city’s growth.
The sewer installation is expected to reach north to Sardis Road where the greenway begins in mid to late 2013.
“Primarily it’s for safety reasons,” said Gwen Cook, planner with the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department. “You can’t have trucks hauling big pipes in the same space as people who are out for a morning walk.”
The 5k course will be undisturbed except for the run beside McAlpine Creek, which will be replaced parallel to a new paved greenway trail. The large cross-country events that are hosted annually in McAlpine Creek Park will be accommodated each year in the fall, said Cook. Sewer construction will occur outside the 5K season.
Cook said that asphalt is better for the environment because gravel often washes into McAlpine Creek during heavy downpours. Asphalt is also less expensive to maintain.
Cook said it costs the department an extra $30,000 a year to maintain gravel trails.
In addition, Cook said the paved trails will appeal to more residents since roller bladers, street bicyclists and those in wheelchairs find it difficult to use the current trails.
But for years, the greenway has served as a mecca for those seeking miles of soft-surface trails, said south Charlotte resident, John Theobald, 54.
“It’s forgiving on your legs, your knees and your back,” said Theobald, who runs 4 miles on the greenway three or more mornings a week. “I think that’s one reason it’s pretty popular. It’s a nice stretch, it’s flat and it’s a forgiving surface.”
Theobald also said that many runners do not want the county to add curves in the trail since most prefer long, straight trails.
“The whole running community is against the paving. No one wants it,” said Providence High School cross country coach Kurt Niedenzu in an email. “Not much against the sewer line construction but the paving idea is just ridiculous and unnecessary.”
Cook said the department had originally planned to construct a gravel trail that would run parallel to the newly paved path to accommodate runners.
“We wanted to provide that granular trail but the whole point was to get the granular trail out of the flood plain,” said Cook. “It just didn’t work and we weren’t going to be able to maintain it.”
Now, the department plans to add grassy shoulders beside the paved asphalt paths.
Cook said the department will begin to work on the design contract and hiring a consultant soon. She expects final drawings for the project to be completed in several months.
Mike Weiss, cross-country coach at Charlotte Latin School, said he’s disappointed in the change since McAlpine is one of the only places in the city where there are miles of unpaved paths.
“It’s an incredibly valuable resource and one that is increasingly under a lot of strain because the sport is growing by leaps and bounds,” said Weiss. “And unfortunately, Charlotte doesn’t really have any places where there are long stretches of unpaved trail to run on, which is why everyone gravitates to McAlpine.”
Still, Weiss also said he could sympathize with Charlotte-Mecklenburg utilities and the parks and recreation department.
After all, he said, the city is in need of more sewer capacity and the parks and recreation department really can’t afford to continue using gravel, especially as county government continues to slash funds.
“The whole issue, in a larger sense, underscores how much we lack green space and places for kids to get out and play and places where young runners can develop their ability,” said Weiss.
In the meantime, local cross country coaches and runners said they will enjoy the last remaining months of McAlpine Creek Park and then adapt when the greenway closes for nearly two years.
“There are simply not enough places for high school kids in Charlotte to run,” said Weiss. “But we have to be sympathetic to what I see is people who are in an understaffed, underfunded department who are trying to deal with set of complex problems the best way they can.”